Jesse L. Dickinson


Honorary Degree (1974)
Doctor of Laws
Location: South Bend
Presenter: John W. Ryan


Most men settle for excellence in one field. Jesse L. Dickinson can claim outstanding careers in three: music, politics, and public administration. This native of Nebraska settled in South Bend in 1928, after traveling for three years as vocal and instrumental soloist with the Redpath Chautauquas and Lyceum Bureau. The community quickly came to know him as a recreation administrator, choral director, and businessman.

In the 1950's, the entire state grew to know him through his distinguished and skillful service in the Indiana General Assembly, where he spent six terms in the House and two in the Senate. As a lawmaker, he was exceptionally adept at the art of compromise, the cornerstone of the democratic system. Champion of the disadvantaged, the incarcerated, and the stigmatized, he was responsible for reforms in the state's penal and mental health care systems, and instrumental in establishing the Indiana Youth Camp and the State Commission on the Aging and Aged. He is today, even in retirement, chairman of the Regional Mental Health Planning Commission. He has served as chairman of both the Indiana State Advisory Committee of the U. S. Commission on Civil Rights and the Indiana Civil Rights Commission.

As executive director and secretary-treasurer of the Housing Authority of South Bend in the 1960's, he was responsible for planning, construction, and management of South Bend's $15 million low-rent public housing program. He is a past president of the St. Joseph County Mental Health Association, a past president of the Board of Directors of the Urban League of South Bend and St. Joseph County, an organizer of the local chapter of the NAACP, the holder of a variety of voluntary positions with the United Way of St. Joseph County, a director of the First Bank and Trust Co. of South Bend, and a Sagamore of the Wabash by proclamation of former Governor George Craig.

Through his strong character and deep concern for others, Mr. Dickinson has left indelible marks on his community and his state.